The first direct visual evidence of the supermassive black hole in the centre of Messier 87 and its shadow. The shadow of a black hole seen here is the closest we can come to an image of the black hole itself, a completely dark object from which light cannot escape. (EHT Collaboration)
Archive photo of the stream coming out of the center of Messier 87 (M87) like a cosmic searchlight. It is one of nature’s most amazing phenomena: a black-hole-powered jet of subatomic particles traveling at nearly the speed of light. In this Hubble image, the blue jet contrasts with the yellow glow from the combined light of billions of unresolved stars and the point-like clusters of stars that make up this galaxy. –Credits: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
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Event Horizon Telescope Director Sheperd Doeleman reveals the first photograph of a black hole during a news conference organized by the National Science Foundation at the National Press Club April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. A network of eight radio observatories on six mountains and four continents, the EHT observed a black hole in Messier 87, a supergiant elliptical galaxy in the constellation Virgo, on and off for 10 days in April of 2017 to make the image. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(L-R) National Science Foundation Director France Cordova, Event Horizon Telescope Director Sheperd Doeleman, University of Arizona Associate Professor of Astronomy Dan Marrone, University of Waterloo Associate Professor Avery Broderick and University of Amsterdam Professor of Theoretical High Energy Astrophysics Sera Markoff hold a news conference to reveal the first photograph of a black hole at the National Press Club April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(L-R) University of Amsterdam Professor of Theoretical High Energy Astrophysics Sera Markoff, National Science Foundation Director France Cordova and Event Horizon Telescope Director Sheperd Doeleman hold a news conference to reveal the first photograph of a black hole at the National Press Club April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Event Horizon Telescope Director Sheperd Doeleman (C) attends a news conference to reveal the first photograph of a black hole at the National Press Club April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Archive photo of Hubble telescope view of Messier 87 (M87). –Credits: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); Acknowledgment: P. Cote (Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics) and E. Baltz (Stanford University)
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By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON, April 10 (Reuters) – An international scientific team on Wednesday announced a milestone in astrophysics: the first-ever photo of a black hole.
The team’s observations of the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster, lend strong support to the theory of general relativity put forward in 1915 by physicist Albert Einstein to explain the laws of gravity and their relation to other natural forces.
The research was conducted by the Event Horizon Telescope project, an international collaboration begun in 2012 to try to directly observe the immediate environment of a black hole using a global network of Earth-based telescopes. The announcement was made in simultaneous news conferences in Washington, Brussels, Santiago, Shanghai, Taipei and Tokyo.
“We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago,” said astrophysicist Sheperd Doeleman, director of the Event Horizon Telescope at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian.
This black hole resides about 54 million light-years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.88 trillion miles.
Black holes, phenomenally dense celestial entities, are extraordinarily difficult to observe despite their great mass. A black hole’s event horizon is the point of no return, beyond which anything — stars, planets, gas, dust and all forms of electromagnetic radiation — gets swallowed into oblivion.
“This is a huge day in astrophysics,” said U.S. National Science Foundation Director France Córdova. “We’re seeing the unseeable.”
The fact that black holes do not allow light to escape makes viewing them difficult. The scientists look for a ring of light — disrupted matter and radiation circling at tremendous speed at the edge of the event horizon — around a region of darkness representing the actual black hole. This is known as the black hole’s shadow or silhouette.
Astrophysicist Dimitrios Psaltis of the University of Arizona, the EHT project scientist, said, “The size and shape of the shadow matches the precise predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, increasing our confidence in this century-old theory.”
“Imaging a black hole is just the beginning of our effort to develop new tools that will enable us to interpret the massively complex data that nature gives us,” Psaltis added.
The project’s researchers obtained the first data in April 2017 using telescopes in the U.S. states of Arizona and Hawaii as well as in Mexico, Chile, Spain and Antarctica. Since then, telescopes in France and Greenland have been added to the global network. The global network of telescopes has essentially created a planet-sized observational dish.
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